I wrote this is a guest post for the Chefs Collaborative, but it does not appear they are posting it anytime soon. Perhaps it was too "in your face". Regardless, I think we in the food system need to have a frank discussion about how farmers can work with chefs and restaurants in a more positive, pro-farmer way. You are all "steak-holders" in this system. This is what I wrote:
I write a meat-focused blog called Honestmeat.com and used to raise organic, pastured pork & poultry in California. I am now writing a book with Chelsea Green Publishing called "The New Meat Market”, a production and business guide for farmers wishing to direct market ethical meats. I go to great lengths to help educate farmers on how to run viable businesses, raise animals humanely, and care for the environment while producing fantastic food. But all that will be futile if we don't have the right mindset from buyers. Here are some key mind shifts that we need from chefs and restaurateurs if they truly want to shift the meat supply in the right direction.
Key Meat Mindshifts:
1) Farmers are not banks. You have to pay them in a timely manner. They cannot carry your business. Pay c.o.d. or within 14 days at the latest.
2) Meat comes from a whole animal. Learn to buy whole animals. Save money by learning how to break down whole animals in your kitchen and use every last part. Learn how to put a whole animal on the menu and educate your customers there is more to an animal than just tenderloins. Train your employees too.
3) Don't expect fresh meat year-round. Frozen meat tastes just as good if it is handled properly. Expect to buy frozen meat for around half of the year if you want to work with farmers. Even better, buy frozen meat year-round as that allows farmers to haul larger groups of animals to the slaughterhouse at one time. Buy a freezer or rent cold storage space so you can buy in bulk. Asking for one fresh carcass a week makes no sense for a farmer logistically.
4) Care about more than “local”. Local meat can still come from a feedlot, can still be fed lots of antibiotics, can still be injected with growth hormones, can still be given feeds grown with pesticides and GMO seeds. Local meat can still be produced by large corporations or hedge-fund billionaires and not family farmers. If you want healthy meat and a healthy environment, you have to do more than 'local'.
5) Be honest! If you buy from farmers, put their names on the menu or written up on a chalkboard wall. If you stop buying from that farmer, TAKE THEIR NAME OFF THE MENU. Stop lying, stop the bait & switch. Don't just buy local, organic meat for a special event once a year and then go back to your Sysco junk the rest of the year. Don’t call yourself a “farm to table” restaurant just because you buy local produce while your proteins come from a far-off factory farm. Commit or don't, but do not lie. Until this issue is resolved, farmers will not want to do business with restaurants. Train your staff too so that they know how to answer questions correctly without lying or making stuff up.
6) Promote more than just the farmer. Promote the local abattoir, without which you would not be able to source local meats. Promote the local smokehouse, the local feed mill, the local hatcheries, etc. All the parts of the system have to be present to have local meats.